Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for joining us at this special event to improve protection for children in times of crisis.
When a child is subjected to serious forms of violence, their whole world is engulfed and defined by crisis.
From a violent home to a deadly warzone, violence is violence, and it will have a profound impact on a child.
Perhaps she is forced to witness her mother being beaten at home, time and again; perhaps he is sold as a commodity and forced to work; perhaps she is deceived and abused by predators on the internet; perhaps he is recruited by a criminal or terrorist group and coerced into actions that he can never forget.
When their world is defined by violence, children often grow up to view the world around them on those same terms.
They are more likely to be victimized again, to become aggressors themselves, or to be involved in crime, feeding a generational cycle of violence.
Now, the COVID-19 crisis may prove to be a defining moment for a generation forced to grow up at greater risk of violence and exploitation.
Even before the pandemic, an estimated 1 billion children experienced some form of violence every year.
Children were also being trafficked at an alarming and increasing rate, accounting for one third of all detected victims of trafficking in persons around the world.
Most of the girls among them were trafficked for sexual exploitation. Some were even trafficked for forced marriage, which in itself is a serious form of violence against children.
Most of the boys who were trafficked were forced to work, another form of abuse that persists, with almost one in nine children worldwide being subjected to child labour.
When the pandemic struck, services for children subjected to violence were disrupted in more than 100 countries, leaving them even more vulnerable.
At the same time, 1.5 billion children were affected by school closures, depriving them of education, safe spaces, and reporting mechanisms.
Lockdown measures heightened the risks of children experiencing or witnessing violence at home. More time spent online increased their exposure to the dangers of online grooming and exploitation.
Poverty and inequalities deepened by the pandemic foster the conditions for violence and crime. Criminals exploit desperation, and impoverished families struggle to protect their children.
The lives and futures of children in different parts of the world are also endangered by instability and conflict.
More than 8,500 children were recruited to fight in armed conflicts in 2020, and almost as many were killed or maimed in such conflicts.
In Africa alone, the UN verified the killing of more than 800 children in armed conflicts. Thousands more were scarred by abuse and coercion, recruited to fight, or exploited by terrorist groups.
In Afghanistan, we face a moment of uncertainty for boys and girls, and their right to grow up in safety and have equal access to education and care.
In crisis, our success in protecting and empowering children will define us, just as it will define their futures.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Now is the time for us to bring children’s issues to the fore in our pursuit of justice, development, and peace.
We need strong, effective, and humane justice systems able to prevent violence against children, deliver justice, and hold perpetrators accountable.
Children who are victims of violence, and those who have witnessed it, must be given adequate protection and support, especially during contact with the criminal justice system.
Children who were recruited by criminal and armed groups, including terrorist groups, must be considered victims first and foremost.
They should not be deprived of their liberty unless absolutely necessary, and we should work to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society.
Criminal justice systems must be properly equipped. Information technology and e-justice are vital tools, particularly when a crisis such as the pandemic presents physical obstacles.
Guided by this approach, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has provided support to more than 50 countries across Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, as part of our Global Programme to End Violence against Children.
We have also worked with 40 countries to develop specific responses to prevent and address violence against children by terrorist and violent extremist groups.
We have learned the harsh lessons of the pandemic and we are using them to inform UNODC support.
Measures to mitigate violence against children must be integrated and prioritized in crisis response plans.
At all times, but especially in times of crisis, efforts must be coordinated across different sectors, institutions, and actors, including the health, education, social welfare, and justice sectors.
Beyond the institutional response, we also need to re-examine social norms and practices that normalize violence against children.
Nearly three in four children between the ages of two and four suffer physical violence at the hands of parents and caregivers as a form of punishment.
No act of violence against children is acceptable, and no crisis should divert our attention from this fact.
To leave no child behind, we need to integrate the needs of children into rule of law and development agendas.
Our partnership can serve as the cornerstone for such integrated, joint responses.
I am grateful to His Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Correia for the important message he delivered today.
Cabo Verde has requested UNODC’s support through the Global Programme to End Violence against Children, and we are keen to work closely with them in the coming period.
I also wish to thank our partners who have co-sponsored today’s special event: Bulgaria, Jamaica, Luxembourg, and the European Union.
The European Union’s Strategy on the Rights of the Child represents a much-needed, comprehensive approach, and UNODC is proud to have contributed to its elaboration.
Partnerships are a pillar of UNODC’s new corporate strategy, and I have every intention of pursuing greater cooperation with all of our allies in preventing and combatting violence against children.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our shared hopes for sustainable development are only feasible if we can empower future generations to carry them forward.
To empower children, we must end the violence they face.
Let us work together to safeguard children from violence, and to make sure that their world is defined not by this crisis or any other, but by the kindness, compassion, and justice that shape our responses.